Meet Gerald & Piggie:
Lovable, unusual best friends with a funny bone!
The Elephant and Piggie Series by children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems
A book review by Marion May
As a reading and spelling remediation tutor for young students, I like to find out what kinds of books my students enjoy looking at and having read to them. Knowing this, gives me insight into what subjects interest them, what story themes they enjoy, and what style of illustrations appeal to them. Most of all, it tells me what makes them laugh and the kind of humour they enjoy. Thanks to one of my seven year old students—who has a delightful sense of humour and natural curiosity about friendships and human dynamics—I was introduced to the Elephant and Piggie series written and illustrated by, Mo Willems. You may recognize Mo Willems, as the Emmy award-winning writer for Sesame Street and the author and illustrator of the Pigeon Series, and Knuffle Bunny.
Who are Elephant and Piggie and what makes them so endearing?
Gerald and Piggie, the two main characters, are complete opposites. Gerald is an elephant; a worrier, very careful, large in size and grey in colour. Piggie meanwhile is a dreamer, a little impractical, much smaller than Gerald and light pink. Despite their obvious differences, their outlook for each other’s well-being and enduring friendship is a heart-warming theme and source of amusement throughout the 25-book series.
My young students tell me they enjoy the series because Gerald and Piggie are a very funny friend combination. Usually Piggy comes up with an idea or plan, and Gerald explains why it doesn’t make sense or won’t work. With a little honest feedback, friendly diplomacy, imagination, and encouragement, they manage to compromise and adapt to overcome challenges and unfamiliar territory—by themselves or with other characters. Every Gerald and Piggie book guarantees the reader humourous insights into the quirky pair, and very often, an unexpected twist at the end of the story. Along the way, they tackle various social dilemmas; from how it feels when a best friend makes a new friend, whether to share an ice cream with a friend, feelings of loneliness if a friend goes away to, absurd predicaments like how to play ball with a snake and managing Piggie’s determination to fly. Above all, co-operation, honesty and inclusion are the core refrains, which naturally appeal to children and adults alike.
The graphic style: simple and expressive
The modest, line-drawn characters are presented on a plain white background. Dialogue appears in a large font within comic-book speech balloons for each character. Piggie’s speech balloons are pink and Gerald’s are grey. This clever graphic feature makes it very clear who is speaking and eliminates the need for quotation marks and the constant repetition of ‘he said’ or ‘she said’. It also makes it fun to read aloud and gives a young reader the opportunity to take on a role if they wish. The comical facial expressions and hand gestures precisely describe the emotions of each character, making the storyline easy to follow. The dialogue is simple and often young children can sound out consonant-short vowel-consonant words. I find the content and presentation especially appropriate for struggling young readers because they can read some words and understand the humour without feeling that they are reading a picture book below their reading level. Because very little text is presented on each page, story reading moves along swiftly and keeps the story pace, up-tempo.
When Gerald and Piggie came alive
The first two books in the Elephant and Piggie Series, My Friend is Sad and Today I Will Fly!, were released in 2007. There Is A Bird on Your Head, which won the Geisel Medal in 2008, was the book I was first introduced to. The laugh-out-loud absurd humour hooked me immediately. Are You Ready to Play Outside? also won a Geisel Medal in 2009. Time Magazine’s Top 10 Children’s Book of the Year, listed Today I Will Fly # 2 in 2007 and Elephants Cannot Dance #5 in 2009. Sadly, in August 2015, Mo Willems announced that the 25th book, The Thank You Book, would be the last in the series. In this final goodbye, he manages to speak to, and include the young reader, as well as he did in my all-time favourite We Are In A Book!
To meet Gerald and Piggie for yourself
I am fairly sure any library, or your favourite bookstore, with a children’s collection will undoubtedly have the entire Elephant and Piggie Series. I found a one book, five-story edition at Costco called, Biggie which contains books 2, 8, 12, 18 and 24. With Christmas just around the corner, I am certain any one of the Elephant and Piggie books would make a suitable for any young reader on your list. And for the record, my second favourite is, I Will Take a Nap! …T’was the Night before Christmas…zzzzzz
Happy reading! Here is a list to help you get started on your Gerald and Piggie journey:
1 My Friend is Sad (Mar 2007)
2 Today I Will Fly! (Mar 2007)
3 There Is a Bird on Your Head! (Jul 2007)
4 I Am Invited to a Party! (Jul 2007)
5 I Love My New Toy! (Jun 2008)
6 I Will Surprise My Friend! (Jun 2008)
7 Are You Ready To Play Outside? (Oct 2008)
8 Watch Me Throw The Ball! (Mar 2009)
9 Elephants Cannot Dance! (Jun 2009)
10 Pigs Make Me Sneeze! (Oct 2009)
11 I am Going! (Jan 2010)
12 Can I Play Too? (Jun 2010)
13 We Are In A Book! (Sept 2010)
14 I Broke My Trunk! (Feb 2011)
15 Should I Share My Ice Cream? (June 2011)
16 Happy Pig Day! (Oct 2011)
17 Listen To My Trumpet (Feb 2012)
18 Let’s Go for a Drive! (Oct 2012)
19 A Big Guy Took My Ball (May 2013)
20 I’m a Frog! (Oct 2013)
21 My New Friend Is So Fun (June 2014)
22 Waiting Is Not Easy! (November 2014)
23 I Will Take a Nap! (June 2015)
24 I Really Like Slop! (October 2015)
25 The Thank You Book (May 2016)